Mary & Sissily
Mary was in a panic. She had looked under the welcome mat, behind the trash can, in the planter with all those tasty leaves and she still couldn’t find it. And then she spotted it. She could just see the barest hint of it between the sofa cushions. She skittered across the room, climbed up the sofa skirt, was halfway to the crack between the cushions, and it disappeared.
This had been going on for three hours. If Mary did not find that irksome smile soon, Cheshire would just have to go through life with a hole in his face. “What does he think I am, anyway? Gerbils are not detectives and I can’t see anything above the edge of the sofa cushion. He could’ve lost his stupid smile anywhere. He jumps onto every piece of furniture and the shelves and the refrigerator.” She was feeling a bit hopeless.
Cheshire was in his hidey hole and apparently wasn’t coming out until his smile was found. Maybe Sissily could help. Mary was really afraid of Sissily, but he was the only other person home at the moment. Though Mary kept having the feeling that someone was watching her. I wonder where Sissily is? Mary thought as she slowly rounded the corner to one of Sissily’s favorite resting spots.
Mary and Sissily had an uneasy friendship. About a week ago Huge Thing that brought Mary food and water and some fun little toys came home with something new. Mary scampered over to see what was in the box, but Huge Thing shoed her away. It got a big glass thing down and dumped the contents of the box into it. Boy, was the new thing long! It slithered to a corner and coiled up and shivered. Mary eased up to the glass to get a better look.
The shivering coiled thing saw Mary, stopped shivering, and got very still. This thing came in and out of its mouth and flicked around like the stupid blowy thing that screeched that Huge Thing blew at her sometimes. But this thing did not screech and it almost seemed to be looking for something. Then the coiled thing uncoiled and slowly moved to where Mary was staring at it. Mary froze. She had the strangest feeling that coiled thing was thinking about dinner. Suddenly it threw its big head at Mary. Mary must have jumped a mile!
When she landed and scampered back, the thing was just sort of lying there limp. Mary eased over. “A-Are you O-OK?” stammered Mary.
“I just wanted some lunch and then something hit me and my nose feels broken,” whimpered the coiled thing.
“Yes, I see a little bit of blood on the glass there,” said Mary. At the mention of blood, the coiled thing gave a huge shiver and passed out cold. Mary was intrigued. What a strange thing for Huge Thing to bring into the house. She sat and studied it. It didn’t move for several minutes. This thing was beautiful. It was green with white marks. His neck (at least she guessed that was his neck, it all blended together) was blue-green and his tummy was yellow-green and every other shade of green was somewhere on his body. Mary could have sat there for a long time admiring this new addition to the home. Then it started to move again. “Hi, my name is Mary,” she said when the thing’s eyes uncrossed and it was looking in her general direction.
“I don’t do well with blood, especially mine. My name is Sissily.”
“I’ve been calling you ‘Coiled Thing. I like Sissily better.” That was their introduction. Since then Mary was a little less frightened of Sissily, but he still made her a little uneasy.
As she rounded that corner, there was Sissily, looking hungry. That always made Mary even more uncomfortable. “Are you any good at finding things?” asked Mary.
“Sometimes. What’re you looking for? I’m interested in lunch,” said Sissily.
“I thought you were looking at me like lunch. Remember, we can’t be friends if you think I’m lunch.” She turned around to start her hunt for the smile again.
“Wait. Is there something else for lunch? I haven’t eaten for three days and I’m starving,” Sissily whined.
“I’d be happy to share my stuff, I hide it all over the place. If you promise not to eat me I’ll take you to my stash.” Sissily promised and Mary started toward her stash.
“What keeps running in front of us,” asked Sissily.
Mary froze. She thought she had seen, or maybe it was sensed, something moving, but she could never quite see it. “I don’t know. What does it look like?”
“It’s pretty weird. It looks sort of like you, but it has a big hat and every so often it flashes this huge smile that doesn’t even fit on its face.”
“Can you see it now?” asked Mary.
“Yep, he thinks he’s hiding under that chair.”
“Can you catch him, do you think? But you can’t eat him.” Mary was confused. How could something that looked like her be living here that she had never met? And was it possible that it had Cheshire’s smile? And why couldn’t she see it?
“Sure. Well, the catching part is easy, the not eating part will be harder,” Sissily said. He was grinning almost as big as the Cheshire cat could when it had its smile. Sissily slithered up the leg of the table beside the chair.
Mary was amazed at how quiet he was. When he got to the top of the table, he coiled his tail around the back of the chair and eased himself down to where the thing was hiding. He hung suspended for a minute or two just watching. The smile came and went. It was twice as big as the face of this thing and the hat was just crazy. It had a huge feather coming out of one side, a big conch shell balanced on the other side and then a regiment of ladybugs marched in formation from the front, over the crown, to the back. Then they did a smart about face and went to the front. He had never seen such a thing.
“Enough of this,” Sissily thought. He opened his mouth and in one swift move grabbed the thing with his mouth and quickly, but gently, coiled around it. Much to his surprise, he had a coil full of hat and smile and no thing, it evaporated!
Mary had been watching and saw nothing until Sissily swiftly grabbed and coiled around a hat and a huge smile. She burst out laughing. Sissily was hanging from the back of the chair with a crazy hat on his head and Cheshire’s smile hanging limply from the side of his mouth. “What happened,” she squeaked out between giggles.
“The thing evaporated,” Sissily said. “He was right there; I struck perfectly and he evaporated. And what do I do with this hat and this droopy thing?”
“Well, I must thank you. I’ve been looking for the droopy thing for hours. It’s Cheshire’s smile. It looks much better on him, I must say. Where did that hat come from? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That is MY hat, thank you!” said an irate hamster in a short plastic vest, plastic breeches, and lace-up boots. His image wavered as they looked at him. Sometimes he almost seemed not there.
“Who are you?” asked Mary. “Or maybe I should ask what are you? You look like a ghost and you look like a hamster and you are wearing pirate clothes!”
“Madam, I am, as you so astutely noted, a ghost and a pirate. I have lived in this house for many generations – two years by my reckoning. My family was sent down the Whirlpool of Death when the small Huge Thing got tired of us, but the small Huge Thing pulled me out of the water after I had breathed my last breath and put me in his trunk of toys. I found friends there. They gave me these clothes The hat is my own creation.”
Mary was dumbfounded. “What have you been doing for the past two years?” she asked.
“He has done everything under the sun that he can conceive of to annoy me!” said Cheshire as he emerged from his hidey hole. The words were barely understandable since Cheshire did not yet have his smile back and therefore the words were coming from an odd-shaped hole in his face. “Marcus, you know full well, that your family died long before they were sent to the Whirlpool of Death. The small Huge Thing loved you and that is why he kept you.”
“Sissily, will you please give Cheshire his smile. That’s the droopy thing hanging from your mouth,” said Mary. “Looking at you without a mouth is gross,” she said to Cheshire.
Sissily warily slithered over to the strange-looking cat and offered the droopy thing. Cheshire took it with a nod of thanks and put it on his face and proceeded to make all kinds of stretchy faces to get his smile on just right. “Ahh, much better. Thank you Long Skinny One. You must be a master hunter to have gotten my smile and that hat from this sad creature.”
“My name is Sissily, and yes, I am a good hunter. I am currently in search of some lunch and Mary was taking me to her stash. And, Marcus, why are you hanging around here? You can’t be enjoying being alone and hiding all of the time.”
Marcus pondered. Hamsters don’t ponder often and it looks quite strange. “That is an astute question. I have not been enjoying my life, but I don’t know how to leave here,” he said.
The ladybugs on his hat (which was now on Sissily’s head) froze in place. The Master at arms had hollered “HALT!”, walked to the edge of the hat, jumped to Sissily’s back and marched in perfect form straight up to Marcus’ nose. “You stubborn old coot! I have been telling you every day for the past two years to get the boot lace. We say it on the front of the hat, then on the back. You have been too pig-headed to listen to me! All you have to do is pull on it twice and the door out of here opens.” The ladybug was red in the face and his eyes were bulging he was so frustrated. He turned around muttering as he marched back to the hat. “And you say you don’t know what to do, and all of us shout ‘boot lace’, and then we go to the other side of the hat and shout ‘boot lace’ and you ignore us, and complain that you can’t get out. You are the most ungrateful….”
“Boot lace! You have been shouting ‘boot lace’? Since you turned around each time, I though you were saying ‘about face.’ It has been driving me berserk for two years!” Marcus immediately bent over and tugged on his boot lace twice and disappeared from view.
“Good riddance,” said Cheshire.
“Can I keep the hat,” asked Sissily. “I really like the feather.”
“I think it looks very smart on you,” said Mary.
“We are taking a break,” announced the Master at Arms. All of the lady bugs marched in formation into the conch shell. After the last one disappeared there was a distinct clunk as the shell’s door closed.
“Let’s get you some food,” Mary said to Sissily. “you have earned it today.” But she was too late. Sissily had just slithered over to the corner and out a hole. He had seen an unsuspecting rat run by. Lunch! Mary peered out of the hole. “You will never fit back though this hole with that bulge in your belly,” she said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back before it is dark. Do you guys always have this much fun?” Sissily was getting sleepy, a nap sounded good. “Where I came from we just had lots of animals living in lots of glass containers. This place is much more fun. Are there always rats out here?”
Mary shook her head as she headed back to Cheshire. “You look so much better with your smile, I’m happy that we found it.” Cheshire agreed.
“Wonder what tomorrow will bring,” Mary wondered out loud as she skittered back to her stash.
“More rats, I hope,” she heard from outside.
“And no more pirate hamsters, I hope,” she heard from Cheshire’s hidey hole.
She thought about pirates and missing smiles and marching ladybugs as she munched on a sunflower seed and drifted off for a short nap.